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Crowds lined the streets as national darling Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) won the opening stage of the Aviva Women’s Tour in Aldeburgh on Wednesday. No British rider had won a stage of the inaugural event, and Armitstead’s victory confirmed her status as pre-race favourite. Confusion and chaos reigned immediately following what should have been cause for celebration.
First across the line, the Commonwealth champion posted up –arms in the air to celebrate her achievement. With her hands off the bars, Armitstead was unable to avoid the scrum of photographers assembled in the finishing chute, just past the line. She tumbled to the ground. Hard. The stage winner and first yellow jersey winner of the 2015 Aviva Women’s Tour lay on the ground for nearly three-quarters of an hour before she was rushed to a nearby hospital.
With Armitstead clearly unavailable for the podium proceedings, her Boels-Dolmans teammates stood on the podium to collect the race leader jersey and sprint jersey on her behalf.
“It’s never easy to see anyone in that much pain,” said Guarnier. “She was hurting –a lot. The organisation wanted a representative for Lizzie on the podium to accept the jerseys, and we were all in a mentally tough place seeing our teammate Lizzie in such terrible condition. We went as a team to support Lizzie and to support each other.
Armitstead was not the only one to fall at the finish. Another crash caused a pile-up on the opposite side of the road. Additional riders hit the pavement as they were knocked from behind when they stopped just beyond the finish to assist fallen teammates and avoid the mayhem.
Taken to hospital by ambulance, Armitstead was assessed for a suspected broken leg. British media now reports that Armistead has been discharged with no fractures diagnosed. Armitstead has tweeted that she will not start tomorrow’s stage so that she can recover ahead of the British National Championships at the end of the month.
I remember winning with the help of my team mates and then not much else, but I am ok, nothing broken just very sore, thank you for all your
— Lizzie Armitstead (@L_ArmiTstead) June 17, 2015
kind messages and to the NHS staff who took care of me so well. I won’t start tomorrow in the hope of recovering properly for the Nationals.
— Lizzie Armitstead (@L_ArmiTstead) June 17, 2015
The somber mood at the finish was in complete contradiction to the jubilant atmosphere in Bury St. Edmonds, which played host to the final stage finish of the Women’s Tour last year. The eagerly anticipated crowds did not disappoint. The barriers were lined with fans waving flags and loudly cheering as riders began to stage. The crowds at the start were a prelude to the roadside scenes along the route. Through each and every town between the stage start and the stage finish, the women’s peloton was treated to rockstar treatment by the masses gathered along the roads.
A tailwind made for a fast and frenzied start with speeds as the women’s peloton reached speeds as high as 50 kilometres.
“No one can get away when we’re going that fast,” said Emma Johansson, who finished in third place in Aldeburgh. “No one is going to bother to attack when there is no chance to get away.”
Following the first categorised climb, the course changed direction, limiting the impact of the wind. Marta Tagliaferro (Alé-Cipollini) and Heather Fischer (Team USA) jumped up the road. Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare), who had been tasked by her team to target the intermediate sprints, bridged across to the leaders.
“We went through a technical part of town about ten kilometres before the first sprint,” explained Rivera. “I was in good position, and there was a move off the front. I didn’t want to get caught in the bunch before the first intermediate sprint when I saw the lane narrowed and the road was barricaded, so I went up the road.”
Elinor Barker (Matrix) was the next rider to join the move. Katie Archibald (Pearl Izumi) and Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) would soon follow suit. Fischer crashed out of the break as the gap hovered around the minute mark.
“There were only ten kilometres between the two intermediate sprints,” noted Rivera. “I thought we would drive it, so I could do my job in the sprints, and then see where the gap was after the second one.”
A brief stop by the peloton at a train crossing worked to the breakaway’s benefit. Their advantage ballooned out to nearly three minutes. The peloton gave a spirited chase, but the breakaway held their ground.
“My goal was to make it last to the finish for Coryn,” said Hall, who walked away with the polka dot Strava Queen of the Mountain jersey. “I did everything I could to keep it together and keep us away.”
“The group was motivated,” added Rivera. “There were only four of us, but we were all working.”
Archibald lost contact with the escapees over the second categorised climb. The four remaining riders collaborated in an effort to stave off the catch.
Three kilometres from the finish, the gap was reported at 40 seconds. The breakaway appeared to have a reasonable chance of staying away to the line.
“I was getting ready to open for the sprint when the group came past,” said Rivera.
“I didn’t really think the break was going to come back,” said Johansson. “Without Velocio driving it so hard –their lead-out train brought them back. No one else could do it.”
Velocio-SRAM set up Lisa Brennauer in the sprint. The German national road champion and time trial world champion finished second to Armitstead. She will wear the yellow leader’s jersey on stage two when the Aviva Women’s Tour continues with a 138km stage between Braintree and Clacton.